Barristers represent clients in court using their specialist advocacy skills.
When they're not in court, they're based in offices called chambers where they spend their time researching legal documents and preparing their cases and written advice for clients.
As a barrister, you would:
- take instruction from clients and their solicitors
- conduct legal research into relevant points of law
- advise clients on the law and the strength of their case
- prepare cases for court; this includes including holding conferences with clients to discuss their case, preparing legal arguments, etc.
- represent clients in court; present arguments; examine and cross-examine witnesses
- draft legal documents
- write legal opinions and advise solicitors and other professionals
- negotiate settlements for clients who settle out of court.
The day to day work of a barrister will vary depending on the area of law. For instance, criminal and family barristers are in court most days of the week, whereas commercial barristers are mainly based in chambers.
Types of employer
Around 80% of barristers in England and Wales are self-employed. They are based in chambers which they share with other barristers and their clerks.
The other 20% are employed in:
- Government departments
- agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service
- the Government Legal Service
- larger law firms
Skills and abilities
- excellent written and oral communication skills
- advocacy skills to represent clients in court
- strong academic ability and research skills
- the ability to analyse and use complex legal information
- interpersonal skills to deal with a range of clients, professionals and other barristers
- time management and organisation skills
- ability to cope with unpredictability
- ability to stay calm under pressure
- resilience, stamina and determination.
To become a fully qualified barrister, you must have a qualifying law degree or a degree plus conversion course - the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Common Professional Examination (CPE). Part-time and distance learn options are available.
After that, you’ll need to complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), which offers a one year vocational training in an educational setting. Then you’ll need to do a one-year pupillage in a set of chambers.
Once that’s complete, you’ll be a qualified barrister. The final step is to secure tenancy in a set of chambers.
You can apply for conversion courses and LPC courses from the November of your final year, though there is no longer an official closing date. This is not the case for the BPTC, which should be applied for by early January in final year.
It can be costly to train professionally in law, especially if you have to undertake the GDL and the BPTC.
Approximately £4.5m of funding in the form of scholarships and awards from the four Inns of Court (the Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple) is available annually to students considering the GDL and BPTC courses. Closing dates for application are the first Friday in May for GDL scholarships and the first Friday in November for BPTC scholarships.
Other funding options include bank loans and professional and career development loans.
If you are considering a career in professional law, it is vital that you aim to arrange work experience. This will help to confirm that the profession is right for you, will aid you in the recruitment process in future and will help you to make all important contacts. Find out more about the benefits of work experience.
This is the most useful type of work experience if you’re considering the bar profession. A mini-pupillage is the term used to describe any length of work experience alongside a barrister, usually three to five days.
Most chambers provide information about their mini pupillage opportunities on their websites, but for some sets a speculative approach is required. You find ideas of who to contact in The Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook. You’ll need to show some knowledge of the areas of work and the specialisms of your recipients.
A useful listing of mini pupillage opportunities is available via the Chambers Student Guide.
Other useful experience for the bar includes visiting court and observing proceedings – you can learn a lot just by sitting in the public gallery.
In some areas, it is possible to organise a period of marshalling (shadowing a judge) by contacting the courts directly and asking about opportunities. In Cardiff, opportunities to do this are limited, as a number of marshalling placements are reserved for Cardiff BPTC students as part of their course.
We also advise that you gain some work experience in law firms, so you can be sure you’re pursuing the branch of the legal profession most suited to you.
Improving your employability
For barristers in particular, mooting, debating and public speaking experience will help to develop relevant skills. The four Inns of Court run training and competitions in these areas, providing students with great experience.
Check eligibility criteria as some competitions are open to BPTC students, others to BPTC students and pupil barristers. You will need to be a member of the four Inns of Court to take part.
To improve your prospects in the legal sector, we also recommend that you volunteer, attend one of our events, where you can meet employers from all over the country, or join a professional body. You can also book onto workshops, courses and masterclasses to develop your skills.
Find out more
Careers and Employability
- Telephone:+44 (0)29 2087 4844